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Dealing with Chinese real estate agents

Using estate agents can be a necessary evil. They’re a go-to source of options when you’re looking for a place to live, but you should know where you stand with them if you’re to avoid being manipulated.


Warning signs

Agents obviously act as a kind of matchmaker, introducing prospective tenants to landlords. If you’re looking to view a large number of potential places in a short space of time, they can be helpful and save you time. However, a bad agent may also waste your time by showing you low-quality apartments which they are desperately trying to find some sucker to rent. 

First, while the vast majority of agents just want to make money legitimately, there are some con artists out there. Things to be wary of include:

  • Agents with offices in suspicious locations. Most legitimate agents have offices in or near the buildings they are renting properties in, or on busy streets where they can attract attention. 
  • Lack of a board in the agent’s office specifying their commission rates and any other service charges. By law, agents should place a clear and prominent notice in their office detailing service charges.
  • Agents who exaggerate a property’s assets, yet refuse to let you see it. 
  • Agents who ask for money before you see a property. This is a huge red flag. 
  • Agents who claim they do not charge commission. If they say this, they are probably earning their money via inflated rent charges which you will bear the brunt of. 
  • Agents who refuse to give you a receipt when receiving your money. 


Tips for finding agents

  • Ask for a recommendation from a friend. Which agents have they had good experiences with? Ask them how much commission they paid.
  • If your friends are unable to provide a recommendation, using one of the bigger agencies is a fallback option. See the list of names and logos at the bottom of this page for some ideas.

Avoiding hassle

  • Be informed. Agents thrive on clients, especially foreigners, who are ignorant of local prices. Don’t allow yourself to be upsold. If you’re targeting specific areas or compounds, ask friends how much you should pay to rent in that area.
  • Some agents will target foreigners specifically. They are likely to offer your prices that are slightly higher than the going rate. These agents advertise their services actively on English-language websites, and are able to communicate in English. While it’s convenient to use an agent who you are able to communicate with, there’s no reason why you should be paying more rent for the privilege – bargain hard.
  •  Be very clear with the agent about what you want to see – which area, how many bedrooms, size and so on.
  • Remember, agents have lists of properties that they are trying to rent out. Some can be easily rented, others are difficult to move. They may try to focus you on renting properties that have been on their books for some time – look out for agents who repeatedly take you to poorly decorated, old properties.
  • If the first place the agent shows you does not meet your standards, consider moving on to try another agent. At the very least, make clear that this is not what you are looking for and that you do not want to see another place like this. If they repeatedly show you below-par properties, move on.
  • Never pay an agent for simply showing you a property. They have not earned their money until they have rented the property, with a signed contract to prove it.


Commissions and negotiation

  • Agents typically charge a commission of one month’s rent. In some cases, the landlord will pay half and you will pay half, but it may be difficult to get the landlord to agree to meet you halfway. Commission charges should be displayed prominently in the agent’s office. Commission should only be paid once you and the landlord have both signed the contract.
  • You can try to negotiate directly with the landlord (for example, by visiting a property after your first visit), thus cutting the agent out. Some landlords will welcome this (they may be paying a commission fee on the monthly rent and welcome the opportunity to keep it for themselves), but agents will also try to ensure this does not happen – perhaps by refusing to let you meet or contact the landlord directly.
  • Landlords may be reluctant to burn bridges with agents, as they are a source of future tenants, not to mention information about changes in rent in the area – landlords will usually consult with agents about whether (and how much) to raise rent whenever a lease is coming up for renewal.


Things an agent cannot do

  • Sign a contract on your behalf. You must do this yourself.
  • Alter or decorate a property for you. Any such changes are entirely the landlord’s decision. 
  • Take responsibility for any problems which develop or are discovered after you have rented the property. They will neither help you nor lobby the landlord on your behalf. It’s entirely up to you to deal with these issues directly with the landlord. 


The names and logos of some of China’s biggest agencies

Centaline property



Shangfang Zhihuan



Sinyi Realty



Cheer Home Realty





Century 21



Man Tang Hong



Pacific Rehouse



Hope Fluent



Wo Ai Wo Jia



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